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Love drug or dangerous addiction? This page will help you to recognise the signs, symptoms and behaviours associated with Ecstasy use and abuse, understand its effects, and find help.

What is Ecstasy?

ecstasyEcstasy is a synthetic stimulant drug; generally sold in the form of a tablet; however it is becoming more common to be sold in its powder form. The main chemical compound in Ecstasy is MDMA ‘Methylenedioxymethamphetamine’. This substance has gained in popularity since the mid-1980s when Ecstasy burst onto the street drug scene, most commonly being associated with the rave culture of the 1990s.

The problem with Ecstasy use is its very low purity content of MDMA. The drug is often cut with various other substances such as amphetamine, caffeine, aspirin, ketamine and ephedrine in order to keep production of Ecstasy cheap. Research has even shown the level of MDMA, found in Ecstasy sold in the UK, can be as low as 0.37%. Users then run the risk of ingesting levels of over 99% of an unknown dangerous substance.

Ecstasy is a Class A drug, which carries the penalty of 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine. For supplying Ecstasy, the penalty can be a life sentence in prison and an unlimited fine.

Street names for Ecstasy: Adam, Beans, Brownies, Clarity, Dolphins, Doves, E, Edward, Eckies, Fantasy, Hugs, Jabs, Love doves, Love drug, Lover’s speed, MDA, MDEA, Magic, MDMA, Mitsubishi’s, M&M’s, New Yorkers, Pills, Rolex’s, Sweeties, XTC, X.

What are the effects of Ecstasy use?

Ecstasy use can take up to 30-45 minutes to take effect; users will then experience reactions such as –

    Physical effects

  • A rush of exhilaration
  • Feeling wide awake
  • Heightened senses
  • Dilated pupils
  • Jaw clenching
  • Teeth grinding
  • Increased breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increasing of blood pressure
    Psychological effects

  • Euphoria
  • Increased confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Hallucinations

Is Ecstasy addictive?

There is a myth attached to Ecstasy use where users believe they can’t be addicted. It is true that many first time users won’t become addicted but heavy use of Ecstasy can quickly build up dependence on the drug. Ecstasy is not as addictive compared to other Class A drugs such as Cocaine or Heroin, however the euphoric and pleasurable effects of Ecstasy can lead to heavy use trying to recreate the positive emotional high. Ecstasy users also can build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning that users will take more and more to achieve the same highs.

Additionally, since Ecstasy is almost always cut with another drug, such as Amphetamine and/or Ketamine, there can be a multiple drug addiction to overcome.

What are the health risks of Ecstasy use or Ecstasy addiction?

Many of the risks users face with Ecstasy are similar to those found with the use of Amphetamines and Cocaine. They are –

  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Liver and kidney failure
  • Increased tolerance and dependence

There are more serious health risks for Ecstasy abuse, but first time use of the drug can also face severe or fatal risks. As the purity of MDMA is so low in Ecstasy, it is often filled with dangerous substances. The combination of MDMA with one or more of these may be inherently dangerous, users that also combine these with additional substances such as Cannabis and alcohol, may be putting themselves at even higher risk.

MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, which is particularly dangerous for clubbers who take the drug in often hot environments. Dancing for long periods in these hot environments increases the chances of users overheating and dehydrating. This can be prevented by sipping no more than a pint of water or non-alcoholic fluid every hour.

However, drinking too much can also be dangerous or even fatal. Ecstasy use can cause the body to release a hormone which prevents the production of urine. Drink too quickly and it interferes with the body’s salt balance, which can be as deadly as not drinking enough water.

Ecstasy use can not only affect psychical health but also mental health. Evidence has emerged that Ecstasy abuse may have permanent changes in the way their brains work. In particular, using the drug may be killing cells which produce a vital mood chemical called Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter chemical, released by nerve cells in the brain, which controls mood, pain perception, sleep, appetite and emotion. A reduction in Serotonin can cause such mental health problems as –

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Increased aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Short term memory loss

How do you tackle Ecstasy addiction?

ecstasyThe first step of tackling an Ecstasy addiction is to recognise you have a problem. Making a conscious effort to stop or cut down is the biggest step.

Across the UK, there are services available that offer free, confidential advice e.g. Talk to Frank, who will be able to provide confidential advice and make a referral to a professional organisation that can provide treatment and recovery.

There are no specific treatments for Ecstasy abuse and addiction. The most effective treatments for Ecstasy use in general are sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is designed to help modify the patient’s thinking, expectancies, and behaviours related to their drug use and to increase skills in coping with life stressors.

Rehabilitation for an Ecstasy addiction involves a great deal of counselling and close monitoring of the users emotional needs and sense of well-being. Users that have experienced Ecstasy use often struggle with depression and withdrawal because of deficiencies in their levels of serotonin damaged through abuse.

Another technique for tackling Ecstasy addiction is self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. These groups operate through weekly meetings based on the ’12 Step Program’ where like minded people and fellow sufferers of Ecstasy abuse can share their experiences and give inspiration to other users. Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous not only help people come off Ecstasy, but also to stay off using.

What support is there for families and friends of Ecstasy users?

”Drug use affects the whole family, not just the user. When there’s a drug user in the family, whether it is a child or parent, everyone suffers and it can be so crippling that family members suffer as much as the user.

For those living close to a dependent drug user, trying to find help can be frustrating. It often seems that support is geared towards the user, when families struggle through problems too.

Fortunately there are support groups for family members too.

There are a number of groups whose sole focus is the support of family members and friends who have been affected by substance abuse and help address these issues.

One organisation that can help specifically with families and friends of drug users is Families Anonymous, who provide support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drug use.”

Finding help

The Inexcess Support Directory lists more than 1600 service providers throughout the UK and is divided by region to help support and advise people how to find help in their own area. Click here to visit the Support Directory.